Science

In a world first, scientists successfully map complete koala genome

Scientists who have mapped the genome of Australia’s symbolic animal, the koala, say it could help them develop better vaccines to treat the animals, who are battling an epidemic of the bacterial disease chlamydia. Jim Drury reports.

SYDNEY / DIMBEROY PROPERTY, GUNNEDAH, AUSTRALIA (Reuters) – The koala – an iconic Australian species under threat from a chlamydia epidemic.

Left untreated, the bacterial disease causes blindness, infertility and even death.

Antibiotic treatment can make it hard for koalas to digest the eucalyptus leaves they live on.

But the Koala Genome Consortium has now sequenced the complete koala genome in a bid to help.

DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE AND CO-CHIEF INVESTIGATOR OF THE KOALA GENOME CONSORTIUM, REBECCA JOHNSON,

“We sequenced the genome so that we could use it for conservation, and once a genome has been sequenced you can use it for all sorts of applications……so we can not only understand the diversity of the populations which we need to maintain for conservation, but also understand the genes of each individual koala, and how they respond to disease – perhaps even individual koalas have different tree preferences, and that might be reflected in their genome………The applications are almost endless.”

Wildlife groups estimate there are between 80,000 and 180,000 koalas in Australia.

They were classed as a “vulnerable” species in 2012.

CO-CHIEF INVESTIGATOR OF THE KOALA GENOME CONSORTIUM AND PROFESSOR OF COMPARATIVE GENOMICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, KATHERINE BELOV,

“We’re in a great position now to be developing better vaccines to treat them. We’ll even know going into a population how likely the population is to respond to the vaccine and whether it’s worth vaccinating the animals. And I think with time, we’ll get to really understand why some animals recover from chlamydia and why others don’t, and that will help us develop therapies to treat koalas.”

More than 3.4 billion base pairs and 26,000 genes were sequenced in the koala genome, which is larger than the human one.

The research was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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